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SEC Fearless Predictions, Aug. 30, Part 2
Arkansas C Jonathan Luigs
Arkansas C Jonathan Luigs
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 6, 2008


Previews and Predictions for the Week 1 SEC, Part 2


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- SEC Fearless Predictions, Week One

Saturday, August 30

Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech  6:45 PM ESPN2
Why to watch: If you're looking for a possible big upset in the opening weekend, this could be it. Mississippi State is coming off a breakthrough season with a bowl win and plenty of optimism going into the year, but Louisiana Tech is a rising WAC team under second year head man Derek Dooley. The Bulldogs, the Tech version, has a good group of veterans on both sides of the ball, while the MSU Bulldogs don't have enough offensive pop to make this a blowout in any way. This would be the type of win Dooley could build the rest of the season around as it would show Tech will be a player in the WAC race, while MSU wants to prove that last year wasn't a fluke with a big start. If nothing else, this should be entertaining.  
Why Mississippi State might win: Get up early. The MSU passing game has had a full off-season to try to correct the inefficiencies and inadequacies of last season, but this still isn't going to be Texas Tech throwing the ball. MSU has to win by running the ball, forcing turnovers, and controlling the game with the defense. If MSU is able to get up and play ball control, the game plan will work.
Why Louisiana Tech might win
: This is a veteran team that gets back eight starters on offense and has a bit more explosiveness than MSU. The running back combination of Patrick Jackson and Daniel Porter aren't better than MSU's backs, but they're close, while the defense is led by a tremendous back seven. LB Quin Harris is a WAC Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and FS Antonio Baker is a special leader in the secondary. MSU won't be able to throw deep, short, or anywhere in between on a consistent basis.      
Who to watch: The one potential big issue for Louisiana Tech coming into the off-season was at quarterback, but even though it lost a long-time starter in Zac Champion, it upgraded the position with Georgia Tech transfer Taylor Bennett a strong talent who should be a steady leader right away. At least that's the hope. Ross Jenkins and Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger were in the hunt, but it's on Bennett now. He was decent at times for the Yellow Jackets, and he'll be used to the speed of the MSU defense.
What will happen: This has all the makings of a big upset with a fired up program at home against an offensively challenged team, but MSU's defense will take care of business and Anthony Dixon and the MSU ground game will come through when a big drive is needed. One thing is 100% for certain; the Bulldogs will win.
CFN Prediction: Mississippi State 23 ... Louisiana Tech 16 ... Line: MSU -9
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 3
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UL Monroe at Auburn  7:00 PM GamePlan
Why to watch: Could UL Monroe pull off another SEC shocker? The Warhawks stunned Alabama 21-14 late last season to give the Sun Belt a big feather in its cap, and a big black eye for the SEC, and now they're hoping for lightning to strike twice. Auburn is putting in a new offense and it needs work and plenty of live reps, but the defenses only get tougher after this with Southern Miss, Mississippi State, LSU and Tennessee to deal with. The attack has to be humming, but first, the job has to be to avoid the monster upset. ULM isn't going to think this is a show; it'll be coming in ready to make some big noise with its dangerous running offense. At the very least, this will be a game to keep an eye on.
Why ULM might win: Auburn is tweaking. It has the new Tony Franklin spread offense in place, but it's not running at peak efficiency. According to all reports, things are going well, but everyone needs time to run it faster and more efficiently. In other words, there should be plenty of mistakes in the opener. ULM has to take advantage of every one.
Why Auburn might win
: The Tigers have the perfect defense to handle the ULM rushing attack. Kinsmon Lancaster is a veteran quarterback and Darrell McNeal, LaGregory Sapp and tight end Zeek Zacharie lead one of the Sun Belt's best receiving corps, but to win, ULM has to get Frank Goodin and the ground game moving. Auburn is too fast in the back seven to allow the Warhawks to run too many plays wide, and the secondary is good enough to lock down to allow the linebackers to tee off on Lancaster coming out of the backfield.
Who to watch
: And the Auburn starting quarterback will be ... ? It doesn't really matter since both Kodi Burns and Chris Todd are expected to play. Burns is a young spread offense star in the making with excellent speed and athleticism, but Todd is a more polished passer with enough mobility to run the Franklin attack without a problem. If all goes well, the Tigers will be able to get each of them equal work to let the scrutinizing begin before the meat of the schedule kicks in.
What will happen: There will be some rough patches for the Tiger offense, but the defense will clean up the messes. ULM's offense won't be able to take advantage of all its good breaks and will have a nightmare of a time going on any long, sustained drives. 
CFN Prediction: Auburn 30 ... ULM 13 ... Line: Auburn -27
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 2
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Western Illinois at Arkansas  7:00 PM 
Why to watch: Can Arkansas actually throw the ball? That's the big question as the Bobby Petrino era kicks in, and while there are major changes and several areas of concern from the quarterback play to the linebackers, the Hogs have two games of tune up time (playing UL Monroe next week) before dealing with a trip to Texas. However, Western Illinois isn't going to be a pushover. The Leathernecks welcome back 18 starters and should be in the hunt for the Gateway title and a spot in the FCS playoffs.
Why Western Illinois might win: Veterans. While Arkansas is all about tuning up and improving, WIU knows what it's doing and has the running game to go right at the green Hog linebackers. The pressure will be put on the Arkansas defensive front, because if it isn't dominating early on, then there's a chance WIU could control the tempo and make Casey Dick and the Hog passing game press.
Why Arkansas might win: WIU doesn't have a passing game. At least it didn't last year. Disappearing for long stretches in some parts of the year, and wildly inefficient during other parts, the air attack didn't do much to scare anyone. Arkansas will let its good secondary take care of the mediocre Leatherneck receiving corps and allow the linebackers to focus solely on the ground game.      
Who to watch: Can Dick throw? After handing the ball off for the last few seasons, Casey Dick will get his chance to be a bigger part of the offense. Stronger this off-season and more productive after getting more responsibility, he appears ready to make a night-and-day transition and become a key component after serving as just an accessory. However, if he struggles at all, the pressure will be on next week against ULM to be amazing.
What will happen: It won't be all happy happy, joy joy in Petrino's first game as the Hog head man, there be rough patches here and there where WIU makes this more than just a glorified exhibition, but in the end, the Arkansas offensive line will come through and wear down the Leatherneck front wall.
CFN Prediction: Arkansas 34 ... Western Illinois 17 ... Line: No Line
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 1.5
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Memphis at Ole Miss  8:00 PM ABC 
Why to watch: Memphis and Ole Miss will open the season for the 31st time with a couple of added twists coming out of Oxford. Houston Nutt takes over the Rebels after spending an up-and-down decade coaching rival Arkansas, and he appears to have a renewed energy in his new gig. He’s inheriting a squad that went 3-9 last year and last went bowling in 2003, when Eli Manning was still an amateur, but there are good pieces in place. The program is also set to unveil Texas transfer Jevan Snead, the best Rebel passer since Manning was around. Memphis was one of last season’s surprises from Conference USA, gutting out seven wins and earning an unexpected bowl berth. While Tommy West was pleased with his team’s effort, he realizes that a league championship will be out of reach until the defense can play better. Much better. He’s also trying to rebuild a backfield that loses its starting quarterback and leading rusher.
Why Memphis might win: Considering that Martin Hankins graduated and Matt Malouf transferred, the Tigers aren’t in dire straits at quarterback. JUCO transfer Arkelon Hall is arriving at a perfect time and coming off an impressive off-season. He has the quick feet and strong arm to get the most out of Memphis’ deepest unit, its wide receivers. Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton are the two thoroughbreds of a receiving corps that’ll toy with a Rebel secondary searching for reliable cornerbacks. If the Tigers begin to score, there’s nothing in Ole Miss’ recent history to indicate it’ll be able to keep pace on offense.
Why Ole Miss might win
: The Rebels will enjoy a sizable advantage on the offensive line against a mediocre Tiger defensive front Offensive tackles Michael Oher and John Jerry are among the best in America, and will be the rocks the offense will work around. The line should dominate a lifeless Tiger pass rush, allowing Snead time to work with Mike Wallace and Shay Hodge, while getting the new backs going in the running game.
Who to watch: Is Rebel freshman RB Enrique Davis ready to contribute? Everyone knows Nutt wants to establish the ground game and the veterans aren’t exactly conjuring up images of Deuce McAllister. The highest-profile recruit from February’s class, Davis should get a chance to touch the ball and should be one of the new offensive stars.
What will happen: It’s the dawn of a new day now that Nutt is on the payroll. The Rebels will be more aggressive at the point of attack and fundamentally sound than in recent seasons, and even though star defensive linemen Peria Jerry and Greg Hardy will be out, the line play will be the difference.
CFN Prediction: Ole Miss 24 ... Memphis 16 ... Line: Ole Miss -9.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) …
2.5
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Sunday, September 31

Kentucky (0-0) at Louisville (0-0), 3:30 EST, ESPN, Sunday, August 31
Why to watch: Unlike last September when the stakes were sky-high and generated a national buzz, the appeal of this year’s bluegrass battle won’t extend far beyond the Commonwealth. Of course the game matters locally, but with both programs in transition years, most of the country will struggle to latch on to a good storyline. After being fueled by the offense the last two seasons, Kentucky will lean on a defense that has a chance to be very good. The offense, on the other hand, could be their undoing, as the program tries to move forward without star QB Andre Woodson and most of his weapons. Louisville is trying to regroup after last year’s abysmal 6-6 season that created a firestorm of criticism for rookie head coach Steve Kragthorpe. It won’t be easy, considering the defense is a mess and the offense is replacing its all-star quarterback, leading rusher, and top four receivers. The Cards appear to have huge edge behind center, where long-time backup Hunter Cantwell gets his last chance to show scouts he has a pro arm. Now he has to show it off. Is he worth all the hype and NFL attention? If so, this is the type of game to showcase it.
Why Kentucky might win: Although last year’s numbers won’t bear it out, the ‘Cats house more defensive talent than at any point in the Rich Brooks era. DE Jeremy Jarmon, LB Braxton Kelley, and CB Trevard Lindley are All-SEC-caliber players who’ll frustrate a Louisville offense that’ll spend the first month of the season looking for an identity and playmakers. Once Lindley locks down Louisville’s best receiver, which is a question mark now that Scott Long is out with a broken foot, Cantwell will quickly run out of reliable options in the passing game.
Why Louisville might win: Welcome to the big time, Mike Hartline. When Kentucky goes on the road to face its biggest rival, it’ll do so with a sophomore quarterback, who’s thrown just six career passes and has the weight of the team on his shoulders. The Wildcats’ pass protection problems will be under scrutiny against the strength of the Cardinal, a veteran defensive line led by tackle Earl Heyman and end Maurice Mitchell. New coordinator Ron English will find a way to get in Hartline’s face and force him into mistakes.
Who to watch: Watch the battles at the line of scrimmage. They’ll entertain and dictate who leaves Papa John’s with bragging rights. For Kentucky, that means All-SEC T Garry Williams must keep Hartline from getting touched, while creating space for RB Alfonso Smith. For Louisville, All-Big East C Eric Wood will be asked to keep DT Myron Pryor from living in the backfield. If either school produces a 100-yard rusher, it’ll win by double-digits.
What will happen: When little separates two programs, go with the home team that has a fifth-year senior at quarterback. It’s asking too much of Hartline to go on the road in a nasty environment and lead his team to win in his first career start, and while he has the more talented defense to try to carry the day, the Cardinal offense will start to look like the Cardinal offense of old after a few series. Cantwell will make enough plays through the air, getting help from the running tandem of Bilal Powell and Brock Bolen, in a nip-and-tuck victory.
CFN Prediction: Louisville 33 ... Kentucky 27... Line: UL -4.5
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 3
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Monday, September 1

Tennessee (0-0) at UCLA (0-0), 8:00 EST, ESPN, Monday, September 1
Why to watch: Last year, California made a statement in an opening day win over Tennessee, and now UCLA is trying to do the same. Meanwhile, the Vols need this win to show that they intend to be a player in the national title chase. The game itself between the Vols and the Bruins will almost be the undercard to the debut of Rick Neuheisel on the UCLA sidelines. Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow were lured out of the NFL to try and ignite a program that hasn’t won the Pac-10 since 1998 and slipped further behind USC under Karl Dorrell. However, the anointed saviors will have their work cut out for them, inheriting a roster in transition and a dicey quarterback situation that’s having the same injury issues as last year. There are changes in the Tennessee staff as well, and they’re under just much scrutiny. In the twilight of his coaching career, Phil Fulmer hired Dave Clawson to run a more inventive offense that’ll spread the field out in multiple sets. Although the Vols have won 10 games three times over the last five years, they’re trying to get creative in order to get over the hump. Like UCLA, it’s been since 1998 that Tennessee won a league championship and the locals are getting restless.
Why Tennessee might win: UCLA will have problems scoring. New starting QB Kevin Craft isn’t exactly green, transferring over from San Diego State, but he could have huge problems against one of the nation’s best pass defenses. Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley are the stars of an air-tight secondary that’ll neutralize the Bruins’ improving situation at receiver and tight end. While the Vol D-line will be vulnerable early on, it might not happen right away. The UCLA offensive line is a patchwork group that’s going to struggle mightily if Craft isn’t able to make plays deep.
Why UCLA might win: With the return of Brigham Harwell after being banged up, and the maturation of Brian Price, the strength of the Bruins will be at defensive tackle. Add in the Reggie Carter-led linebackers and UCLA will be able to take RB Arian Foster out of the game, forcing QB Jonathan Crompton to come up with big plays. The successor to Erik Ainge, Crompton has just one career start and will be walking into a carnival-like atmosphere in the Rose Bowl. Neuheisel and his staff have been focusing from day one on the Vols; they’ve been preparing like this is the Rose Bowl.
Who to watch: The Volunteers think so highly of WR Gerald Jones they’ve developed a package dubbed the G-Gun specifically designed to get the most out of his explosive skill set. Clawson won’t waste any time rolling it out on the rebuilt UCLA D, lining up Jones as a quarterback in a set popularized by Darren McFadden at Arkansas.
What will happen: While it’s unrealistic for the new Tennessee offense to click right away, it houses more than enough talent at the skill positions and on the interior to move the ball. The Vols will get a blue-collar effort from Foster, who’ll work his way into a decent, but not explosive day, while getting just enough from Crompton to kick off the Neuheisel era on a sour note. However, UCLA will represent itself well. If it’s possible, this will be a good-looking loss.
CFN Prediction: Tennessee 31 ... UCLA 23 ... Line: Tennessee -7
Must See Rating: (5 90210 - 1 90210, at least what you’ll say among your friends) … 4

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- SEC Fearless Predictions, Week One